I felt summer come to an end this week. The arrival of school was made obvious by the low stock of notebooks in stores and the wedding invitations, much to my pleasure, came to a halt.
The suffocating hot weather that obliterated any effort you put into looking like a graceful human being was waning from the skies, but to mark the season, I knew there was something that I needed to do: have some faloodeh.
By name alone, it doesn't sound enticing, but its flavor sends taste buds into shock and submission all at once.
An Iranian dessert made of thin vermicelli noodles that are suspended in a sugar-and-rose-water syrup, faloodeh is the defining mark of summer in Persian households. It’s often doused in lemon juice and eaten with a spoon, with enthusiasts taking great caution to preserve the burst of flavors and textures that slowly knock each other down like a row of dominoes in the mouth.
The taste that faloodeh offers makes you feel like you're eating something preserved for the gods of an ancient time and place, and probably with good reason, since the dessert's rumored emergence goes all the way back to 400 B.C.
For comparison's sake, it is on par with the draw and satisfaction of eating frozen yogurt on a hot day, though the history and emotion those white noodles in rose water carry is much greater.
When I eat faloodeh, I am eating more than just a frozen concoction that brings relief from the summer heat. I am eating pain and laughter and tears. I am eating history and family and tradition. Every spoonful brings back memories of family, struggles of life and insights into culture.
I don't mean to romanticize food — or worse, sound like a foodie — but the significance of food in my life is more than just sustenance. When I eat spas, that delectable yogurt soup made of barley and herbs, I remember a summer spent in the Caucasus. When, on the rare occasion my dad makes homemade halva — that sweet confection consumed across the Middle East — the meaning of “family” fills the air alongside the sickeningly delicious smell of roasted butter.
Even the lemon and pomegranate trees I can see from where I write elicits emotion about family who have passed and those I have yet to meet.
These feelings don't transcend to recipes in cookbooks, but of the ones my mother, or even the street food vendor, know by heart. They are not expensive dishes, nor the next best trend in L.A. dining, but they have soul and character, and food is as much about that as it is taste.
I finally got my faloodeh fix this weekend, when I met a friend in Westwood and we took turns oohing and awing over the overwhelming flavor in our Styrofoam cups as the line inside the ice cream shop never died down.
When I got home, I opened my Persian cookbook to see if it had a faloodeh recipe, feeling overly ambitious that I could replicate the flavor at home myself. Instead, between passages that detailed the ceremonial food for Ramadan, memorial services and even Persian Public Baths, I landed on a page about how to plan a wedding.
The 10th bullet point advised arranging food catering.
“You may photocopy the sweet rice recipes in this book to give to your caterer. If you caterer has any questions on preparing the rice, you may have them contact me,” the author had written, offering up her consulting services to make sure that the rice on your wedding day, no matter who you were, would seal the memory of the beginning of your new life in the mouth and mind of your guests forever.
That was soul, staring at me in the crisp white pages of a cookbook with recipes once written on clay tablets 4,000 years ago.
LIANA AGHAJANIAN is a Los Angeles-based journalist whose work has appeared in L.A. Weekly, Paste magazine, New America Media, Eurasianet and The Atlantic. She may be reached at email@example.com.